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Sunday, October 13, 2013

My blog is moving

I have now moved my blog to unite it with my new website - please follow the link to to see any posts from October 2013 on.

Sorry about the inconvenience!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Poodles, dodos and historiographers

It's been a while since my last Guardian piece, but here's one today, on armchairs, poodles, and military "strikes".

Also today, in the FT: my review of Simon Winder's Danubia, an entertaining history of Habsburg Central Europe, starring, among others, the weird and not-always-wonderful Rudolf II of Prague.  Together with the lions, tigers, dodos and other wild beasts in his castle, Rudolf kept a pet "historiographer": Joannes Sambucus (or János Zsámboky), of whom I am especially fond.  I tried to squeeze him into the review but soon realised that he wouldn't fit and that it was pure self-indulgence.

Sambucus was a great Hungarian manuscript collector and editor of classical texts, best remembered for his Emblemata (1564), an emblem book (and what a strange fashion that was).   I compiled a Sambucus bibliography for my librarianship dissertation years ago, an over-ambitious and quite pointless project for a single summer.  I could no doubt have carried on working on it for years, travelling over Europe and America, comparing editions down to their tiniest detail, and might still be at it today - but fortunately I had neither time nor money for the job. 

Sambucus himself spent all his money and time chasing manuscripts, buying them up, piling them up, poring over them.  He was one of the great Renaissance bibliomaniacs and humanists.  Towards the end of his life, he ran into debt, and had to sell his collection again. 

Here is a picture, taken by Michal Maňas, of the memorial on his house in Vienna.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The two loves of Andre Maurois

In the New Yorker's Page-Turner blog yesterday: my essay on Andre Maurois, his tortuous love life, and his novel 'Climates', which is about to be reissued by the wonderful Other Press in a new translation by Adriana Hunter (4 December 2012).

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Kerouac drifting off

I've just been marvelling at Jack Kerouac's original scroll draft of On the Road, on display at the British Library in a special looooooooong display case. (It doesn't display the whole 120 feet, but a large portion of it, with the rest rolled at one end.) 

It's impressive to see it, but there's one thing I don't understand.  Every source I've ever seen says that Kerouac taped tracing-paper together to form the scroll so he wouldn't have to be distracted by changing paper in the typewriter.  But at regular intervals all the way along, probably equivalent to about 2-3 sheets  of ordinary paper, a neat shift occurs in the margin.  Seems his typewriter was typing crooked, and when the text block drifted too far over he had to stop what he was doing, raise the bar that locks the paper in place, and shove the whole thing over a bit before clamping it back down and carrying on.

So - how is that not distracting?  I think I'd find it even more so, as you'd end up constantly monitoring how far you were floating off to the side.

Am I interpreting what I'm seeing correctly?  Or does anyone know a better explanation of these breaks?

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Jelly Baby Boost

On Saturday 29 September I attended a wonderful all-day symposium at London's Wellcome Collection, called 'Human Limits'.  Here's a piece I wrote for The Guardian on Monday 1 October, which (rather to my own surprise) turned out to be about goggles, jelly babies and other small technology.

The headline in the print version (which I much prefer to the online one) was The Jelly Baby Boost. No contest, I'd say.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Kings Cross Lighthouse 26 July 2012

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Waiting for the Olympic torch to pass Kings Cross this morning, I got distracted watching this - the lighthouse on the corner of Pentonville Road, under refurbishment but not yet finished, being covered with a picture of what it's supposed to look like.